Weather and sparse sporting seasons have combined to make February and early March a restless, dormant period for sportsmen. Aware of this lull in the outdoors, father and son Parker and Will Tuten of Jacksonboro constructed a pheasant tower to attract wingshooters interested in purchasing pheasant hunts at Bluefield Farms. The farm’s sprawling acres includes a diverse agricultural operation, trail rides for horse owners and a private hunting club.
Roger Burris, my brother-in-law, invited my son, Ned, on a recent hunt, which meant I was allowed to tag along. Roger also brought his coworkers, David Conrad and Luke Hough and Luke’s son Lawson. Roger has shot pheasants at Bluefield many times and the sport helps him practice his waterfowl marksmanship.
Like all great hunts, the experience included a fine Southern meal and social gathering. Children were entertained by the farm animals while adults made new acquaintances and rekindled old friendships beneath the shelter of the farm shed. After a blessing, we enjoyed barbecue, hash and rice, macaroni and cheese, baked beans and iced tea. After this noon dinner, Will educated eager sportsmen on the procedures and safety rules of the hunt.
After a short ride in Roger’s Mule (the ATV kind, not the four-legged), we arrived at the hunting grounds. The pheasant tower is a massive structure in the middle of a cut-down. A wide, galvanized drain pipe runs vertically from the ground up through the center of the tower. The height of the tower encourages the birds to fly high, thereby enhancing the sporting aspect of the experience.
One at a time, 250 farm-raised pheasants are released into the pipe from the floor of the tower. The tower’s height encourages the birds to fly high, offering plenty of sport. Hunters, encouraged to wear blaze orange for safety, are spread out at twelve stations on the edge of the cut-down and facing the tower.
Stations consist of wooden wire spools and hay bales. Two shooters occupy each station and upon the sound of a siren, they rotate counterclockwise to the next station. Once you have completed the cycle around the tower two times, all birds have been released and the hunt comes to a close. We spent about three hours afield, a fine half-day venture on a cool, sunny winter day.
Ned and I had a great time. It was fun being paired together without the need for absolute silence. The station rotations also encouraged brief visits with neighbors. Ned shot a 20 gauge pump and I swung a 12 gauge. We both got off some good shots and bagged some birds; of course, we missed quite a few, too.
As with farm-raised fowl such as quail, the pheasants are wily enough to fool you and check your pride. The birds have a knack for spreading the wealth among the stands, but the hunt is plenty active. On a couple of occasions, we were too leisurely in reloading and missed birds that repeated the route of their predecessors.
The pheasant hunt is a community effort for friends of Bluefield. Thomas Rowe, Calvert Huffines and additional friends of the Tutens were dispersed around the tower with their dogs, which gained good work retrieving the pheasants. The gentlemen offered tips, information and general conversation to shooters making their way around the circle. Other folks worked the tower, releasing birds and sounding the horn. The retrievers rounded up birds that made it to the woods past imperfect marksmen, ensuring a healthy and sustainable harvest.
A relaxing aspect of the pheasant shoot is that nobody keeps score. Harvested birds are loaded on the spools and bales and collected periodically. Back at the farm shed, Will and a few other folks were busy cleaning birds, which they equitably distributed to hunters in Ziploc bags.
The next day, my wife, English, cooked the pheasants for Sunday supper. First, she salt and peppered the birds. Then, she dipped them in an egg bath and rolled them in flour. Next, English browned the birds in the cast-iron skillet. At that point, the birds spent 20 minutes in a pressure cooker swimming in chicken broth.
The broth was transferred to the skillet and corn starch was added to make gravy. Finally, the pheasants simmered in the gravy while the grits and pole beans cooked. It was a phenomenal meal and the healthy domestic birds were tender, lean and gamey — far tastier than chicken.
The majestic fowl boasts a rich history. In Britain’s The Field, Michael Yardley notes that Roman officers likely brought pheasants to Western Europe. The Normans sought to protect the bird and “Thomas Becket famously dined on pheasant the night before his infamously violent death in 1170.” The Chinese Ring-necked pheasant “(Phasianus torquatus) — first called the ‘ring pheasant’ — was imported from southern China in 1768 as all things oriental came into vogue.”
The advent of the shotgun in the Old World cultivated further conservation efforts for the pheasant, which quickly became a favorite game for the wingshooter. Yardley concludes, “one thing is sure — the pheasant is an old immigrant to Britain and one that has enriched our sporting life.”
While pheasants were introduced to the United States during colonial times, they were not successfully released until they came to Oregon in 1881. In 1898, South Dakota followed suit and the immigrant fowl became so popular it was made the state bird. In northern states west of the Mississippi River, pheasant populations flourished, where they are now successfully hunted in the wild.
Through an impressive pheasant tower, Bluefield Farms has creatively facilitated an opportunity for folks to harvest pheasants this side of Ol’ Man River. From January through March, the Tutens offer eight pheasant shoots per year, as well as additional hunts for large groups. The 12 stands typically accommodate 24 hunters. For more information or to arrange a spot next year, contact Will at (843) 908-3474.
Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.